Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bad­er Ginsburg

Doreen Rap­pa­port, Eric Velasquez (illus.)

  • Review
By – April 6, 2020

When asked how many women would be enough on the Supreme Court, Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg famous­ly answered nine,” wry­ly draw­ing atten­tion to the pre­vi­ous­ly unques­tioned absence of any women on the high­est court in the land. In Ruth Objects, Doreen Rap­pa­port and Eric Velasquez inform young read­ers about the bril­liant and com­pas­sion­ate jurist who has fought her whole life for equal­i­ty, not in order to achieve strict numer­i­cal par­i­ty for women, but to ensure fair­ness for all. Edu­ca­tion, employ­ment, polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion, and car­ing for fam­i­lies are areas of the deep­est impor­tance to Gins­burg. Rap­pa­port and Velasquez’s sto­ry of her unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to the Constitution’s pro­tec­tions for all Amer­i­cans is live­ly, acces­si­ble, and inspiring.

The book’s large size and bold pre­sen­ta­tion high­light the impres­sive dimen­sions of its subject’s achieve­ments, begin­ning with her por­trait on the cov­er against a back­ground of the Constitution’s pre­am­ble. The text is pre­ced­ed by end­pa­pers fea­tur­ing the first of the Justice’s quotes which appear on every page, struc­tur­ing the nar­ra­tive. In a strik­ing font against a sol­id back­ground, the state­ment con­trasts with the equal­ly impas­sioned asser­tion of the Found­ing Fathers’ We the peo­ple,” assert­ing that Women will have achieved true equal­i­ty when men share with them the respon­si­bil­i­ty of bring­ing up the next gen­er­a­tion.” Through­out the book, both text and pic­tures sup­port the premise that intel­lect and com­pas­sion, as well as work and fam­i­ly, are the insep­a­ra­ble dimen­sions of Ginsburg’s life. Ginsburg’s jour­ney begins with her moth­er, a strong woman con­front­ed with the inevitable lim­i­ta­tions of her own gen­er­a­tion, who encour­ages her daugh­ter to be strong but to bal­ance per­sis­tence with self-control.

Velasquez’s style, a kind of pho­to­re­al­ism tem­pered with emo­tion, will be appeal­ing to chil­dren. Young Ruth’s moth­er sits in a wood­en chair in their mod­est Brook­lyn apart­ment fac­ing Ruth and firm­ly lay­ing a hand on her daughter’s shoul­der. This open­ing image cap­tures the book’s cen­tral mes­sage of female sup­port, con­tin­u­ing to devel­op in Ruth’s young life as she lights Shab­bat can­dles with her moth­er and meets oth­er strong role mod­els, Jo March and Nan­cy Drew, in her week­ly vis­its to the library.

Attend­ing Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, and lat­er Har­vard and Colum­bia Law Schools, the ambi­tious young woman learns how to nav­i­gate the con­stant obsta­cles placed by male prej­u­dice in her path. Rap­pa­port con­veys this expe­ri­ence to read­ers who may be unaware of ear­li­er soci­etal atti­tudes through sim­ple and emphat­ic sen­tences: Har­vard treat­ed men and women dif­fer­ent­ly, too…The old peri­od­i­cals room was closed to women. Only one build­ing where class­es were held had a women’s bath­room.” A key turn­ing point is her meet­ing Mar­ty Gins­burg, the love of her life, whose con­stant sup­port was essen­tial as she strove to com­bine her career with moth­er­hood. A smil­ing wed­ding por­trait and one of Mar­ty in his crisply tai­lored army uni­form is fol­lowed by Gins­burg in mater­ni­ty clothes, her head turned in a frown as she learns that her preg­nan­cy will be the end of her job as a lawyer. Sex­ism com­bined with anti­semitism makes career advance­ment improb­a­ble, but Gins­burg refus­es to accept obsta­cles as inevitable, find­ing men­tors and work­ing relentlessly.

Rap­pa­port skill­ful­ly avoids the pit­fall of por­tray­ing Gins­burg as a super­woman who some­how defies real­i­ty in a way which nor­mal mor­tals could nev­er hope to imi­tate. In argu­ing her first case before the Supreme Court, she was nau­seous with anx­i­ety but felt a surge of pow­er that car­ried me through.” This pow­er was root­ed in her thor­ough prepa­ra­tion, but also in the fact that her per­son­al goals were inter­twined with social ones and that she prac­ticed law in an era when dis­em­pow­ered Amer­i­cans were begin­ning to make their voic­es heard. Fight­ing for the rights of female cus­to­di­al work­ers who had been laid off at Colum­bia, she faces the work­ers with­out a trace of con­de­scen­sion, work­ing togeth­er to get equal ben­e­fits: The women won.” Not every fight leads to vic­to­ry, either in court or in Ginsburg’s per­son­al life, where the loss of her hus­band was as dif­fi­cult as the loss of her moth­er had been when Ruth was a young woman. Read­ers learn that Ginsburg’s objec­tions were some­times over­ruled, but that her strug­gles and ded­i­ca­tion have incal­cu­la­bly bet­tered the lives of both women and men.

This is a high­ly rec­om­mend­ed biog­ra­phy which includes a time­line, a bib­li­og­ra­phy, and a list of addi­tion­al sources, as well as insight­ful Notes” by both author and illustrator.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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